By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
While writing this piece, I am quite distressed about the systematic persecution of the Baha’i minority members in Yemen. Besides the tussle between two warring parties in Yemen, what is more deplorable is their implications on religious minorities including Jews, Christians, and particularly the Baha’i community which is being regularly persecuted for just practicing their faith. This goes not only in complete contradiction to the United Nations Human Rights Covenants of 1948 but also against the true Islamic principles of governance and justice.
The significant pressure that has been brought to bear on the Houthis and the Iranian authorities by the Arab and non-Arab world in recent months has, no doubt, stayed their hand an even prompted some Houthis to engage in dialogue with the Baha’is to end the persecution. However, as of this penning this piece, a number of Baha’is remain imprisoned in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, after four years of their arrests, detentions, and continuous torture by the Houthis. Most tragically, the death sentence against Hamed Bin Haydara, one of the Bahá’í practitioners, has been issued along with an order for the confiscation of all of his assets and the dissolution of this religion’s institutions and the banning of its activities. Mr. Haydara’s death sentence remains to be repealed.
Notably, Bahá’i practitioners in Yemen, as in other parts of the world, are known for being committed to rules and regulations of the country and are working for peace and pluralism in the society. But given the Houthi leadership’s continued coercive actions, thousands of Baha’i practitioners are vulnerable to disastrous consequences in Yemen.
It is high time that the world governments in general and Muslims around the world in particular speak out to condemn this nefarious case of religious persecution in a supposedly Islamic country. Several countries have raised voices of objection to the persecution against the Yemeni Bahá’ís, demanding the cancellation of the death sentence for Hamed Bin Haydara. But sadly, no Muslim country is coming to the fore to speak for the religious peaceful coexistence in Yemen on behalf of the imagined global ‘Ummah’.
If we Muslims desire the full protection of the human rights for the world’s Muslim minorities as an ‘Ummah’, we must ensure that the non-Muslim citizens living in the Muslim majority countries are accorded the same rights and privileges that we Muslims seek to achieve in the non-Muslim nations. In order to achieve this, I would like to offer concrete solutions and final recommendations derived from the Madina Charter of Human Rights (Misaq-e-Madina)—the first ever written constitution of the world formulated by the Muhammad (peace be upon him).
It is noteworthy that the constitution of Madina also known as Misaq-e-Madina was compiled when the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and his companions migrated to Madina as an oppressed minority. It was the first social contract to be written ever in the history of mankind. Muslims and the non-Muslims lived under this covenant which organized the public affairs and governed the relations between them and their neighbors, as Ibn-Ishaq reported:
“The Holy Prophet (pbuh) wrote a document between the Emigrants [from Makkah] and the Ansar [the natives of Madina], and in it he made a treaty and covenant with the Jews, establishing them in their religion and possessions, and assigning to them rights and duties.”
The charter of Madina focused on these pivotal cornerstones for a nation or governance: (1) peace and security (2) Justice and (3) organizing the judiciary. It reads:
“In the name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Ever-Merciful. This is a document from Muhammad, the Holy Prophet, governing the relation between the believers from among the Qurayshites (i.e., emigrants from Makkah) and Yathribites (i.e., the residents of Madina whose majority were non-Muslims). They form one and the same community as against the rest of peoples. (Source: Sunan Al-Bayhaqi, no. 16808 and see the whole constitution in Ibn Katheer’s biography, part 2, page 321, and Ibn Hisham’s, part 1, page 501.)
The concept of Ummah or a “nation” through the terms of the Madina constitution clearly states that the Muslims or non-Muslims whether from Makkah or Madina are one community. It states clearly: “They form one and the same community as against the rest of men!”Thus, the Islamic charter f human rights recognized the “nation” for the first time in the history as a one indivisible unit, moving from the individual or the tribal life to the life of the single nation which was not characterized by any particular religion, racism or tribalism.
The Madina charter of human rights ensured “equal rights and duties” between its parties and by this it ended racism and segregation in one go. It stated:
“The Jews shall be responsible for their expenses and the Believers for theirs… The Jews shall maintain their own religion and the Muslims theirs. Loyalty is a protection against treachery… The Jews of Banu Najjar, Banu al-Harith, Banu Sa’idah, Banu Jusham, Banu al-Aws, Banu Tha’labah, Jafnah, and Banu al-Shutaybah enjoy the same rights and privileges as the Jews of Banu Aws…”
Thus, the Madina constitution affirmed the full bonding between the Muslims and non-Muslims based on justice and equity. This equality was based on the common value which is termed in the Islamic law as ‘Karamat-e-Insani” (human dignity). Allah states in the Qur’an:
“We have honored the children of Adam, and have borne them on the land and the sea, given them for sustenance things which are good and pure; and exalted them above many of Our creatures.” (Qur’an 17:70).
It also stated that its terms apply on those who have signed it and those who shall follow them later and fight with them (whether Muslims or non-Muslim) and by this it is the first treaty in the history that acknowledges the principle of joining treaties even after they are signed (Madina Treaty – Context and Significance” by Ahmad Al-Shuweibi, issue 110 from the Al-Ummah Book issued by Al-Awqaf Minstry, Qatar).
After the Holy Prophet (pbuh) departed, his companions followed his footsteps and so Umar Ibnul-Khattab signed a treaty with the people of Illia called “The Omarian Covenant” which stated among its articles:
“In the name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Ever-Merciful. This is the security that Omar gives to the people of Illia. He gives them security for themselves, their monies, their churches, their crosses, their sick and ailing, and all their peoples. Their churches won’t be taken over, won’t be destroyed, won’t be reduced in size, neither will their crosses, their wealth, neither will they be persecuted because of their faith nor will any of them be prejudiced…“(Taareekh Al-Tabari, 436/4)
A great number of companions were witnesses to this covenant like; Khaled Ibnul-Walid, Amr Ibnul-Aas, Abul-Rahman Ibn-Awf and others; which means that they all accepted the content of the covenant.
Same thing was done by the Holy Prophet’s companion, Hazrat Amr Ibn A’as with the people of Egypt, Utba Ibn-Farqad (appointed by Hazrat Umar Ibnul-Khattab) with the people of Azerbaijan, as Al-Tabari wrote in his encyclopaedia of history.
Not only Muslims, even all non-Muslims living in Madina state of the (pbuh) were accorded full protection of life, religious freed and democratic rights. A clause in Misaq-e-Madina was stipulated in these words of Holy Prophet (Hadith): “I shall dispute with any Muslim who oppresses anyone from among the non-Muslims, or infringes on his right, or puts a responsibility on him which is beyond his capacity or takes something from him against his will.” (Reported by Abu Dawood)
In the 10thyear of Hijrah, a delegation of 14 Christian chieftains and bishops from Najran came to Medina to enter into a treaty with the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The Prophet (pbuh) not only welcomed them with open arms but also permitted them to pray in his mosque, the Masjid-e Nabawi. The Christian delegation prayed in the Holy Prophet’s mosque, turning towards the east, their Qibla or direction of prayer. This glorious instance of the Holy Prophet ’s religious tolerance cannot be discarded by any Muslim sect, as it has been authenticated by numerous erudite Islamic scholars of great repute, including Imam al-Qurtubi (in his Tafseer Jame’ Li Ahkamil Quran), Imam Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jauziya (in his book Zadul Ma’ad), and Imam Ibn Kathir (in his Tafseer Ibn-e Kathir).
Similarly, a Christian delegation from St. Catherine’s Monastery came to the Holy Prophet (pbuh), requesting his protection. The Prophet (pbuh) granted them a Charter of Human Rights, which is recorded in the Islamic history as the written document for the protection of minority human rights and respect for other faiths.
But deplorably for Muslims living in the so-called Islamic countries, they have diverted from the right path shown by the Prophet (pbuh). The worrying incidents of the faith-based discrimination against the Yemeni citizens are symptomatic of not only a humanitarian crisis but a systematic religious persecution. This is not only a clear violation of the Yemeni Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights agreements, but a brazen violation of the Prophet’s beautiful cultural heritage. The legacy of diversity, pluralism and coexistence that has shaped the Misaq-e-Madina’s peaceful clauses has eroded almost each and every Muslim country today.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar and English-Arabic-Urdu writer. He has graduated from a leading Islamic seminary of India, acquired Diploma in Qur’anic sciences and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies. Presently, he is pursuing his PhD in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.